Can children with type 1 diabetes live a normal life? What are the latest advances in treatment?

Although people of any age can get type 1 diabetes (which used to be referred to as ‘juvenile diabetes’), it most often strikes adolescents and teenagers. Beginning with diagnosis, diabetics must learn to inject themselves with insulin on a regular schedule, as determined by their physicians, and they have to constantly monitor what they eat and drink and the impact of what they take in on their blood sugar levels. Living with diabetes may be particularly hard for adolescents and teenagers, who do not want to be considered “different” from their peers.  But physicians say there is no reason they can’t have a normal life. For more on living with type 1 diabetes and the latest research and treatments, we turned to Yale School of Medicine clinical fellow Miladys Palau Collazo, who writes:

“Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is one of the most common, chronic diseases of childhood. It is caused by a disorder of the immune system.  The immune system, which is supposed to help us fight against bacteria and viruses, malfunctions and starts attacking and killing the insulin producing cells of the pancreas.

“Discovering that your child has T1D is overwhelming for all families.  Because the patient with T1D ends up with no insulin producing cells, parents and the children need to learn to think and act like the pancreas.

“But, if you really want me to answer the question ‘Can children with type 1 diabetes live a normal life?’, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!  It’s just a different definition of ‘normal.’  Children with diabetes can do everything children without diabetes do, like ride a bike, play competitive sports, grow up and go to college, get married and have kids of their own – it just takes extra steps and extra attention to get there.  Monitoring their blood glucose, counting carbohydrates, injecting insulin, recognizing and treating symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), are things that children and their family have to deal with everyday.  Although diabetes care is difficult, parents and their children become experts on the condition and it quickly becomes part of their everyday routine.

“Although T1D in children requires constant care, advances in treatment have improved current management of T1D and are leading the way to an even brighter future.

“Pioneering work on insulin pump therapy was done at Yale by endocrinology specialists  William Tamborlane, Robert Sherwin and Myron Genel in the late 1970’s, and the current ‘smart’ insulin pumps make managing diabetes much better. New glucose monitoring systems, devices that measure blood sugar levels every 5 minutes throughout the day, allow patients to make real-time adjustments of their treatment regimen based on a continuous stream of blood glucose data.

“Even more exciting is the fact that our researchers are working to combine these two technologies with the help of sophisticated computer programs to develop an artificial pancreas.  How does it work? The computer reads the sensor data and tells the pump how much insulin to inject into the body.  Although it is not the cure for T1D, it will make control of diabetes much better and living with diabetes much easier.  The goal is to develop a device will be the size of a cell phone, easy to use and available to all of those that endure the daily battles of T1D.”

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